John Nisbet.

Burma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) online

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Under good government they are now, however, showing
great improvement, with rapid development of trade.
In 1892 the total trade of the Southern Shan States with
Burma amounted to ^30,000; in 1899- 1900 it was
'£57 5' 55^' This capital has all been created since the
annexation, when cultivation was confined to absolute
requirements for actual existence. No statistics are
available as to the trade of these States with Siam, China,
and Tonquin ; but if the railway being surveyed for from
Thazi to Taunggyi can be continued across the Shan
States to Mone (thus forming a loop with the Thibaw-
Mone branch) and on to Kengtung, trade will probably
develop very rapidly. The country is fairly fertile and
possesses a good climate suitable for growing tea, coffee,
fruits, vegetables, and grain, as well as for breeding
cattle. Hence, given the railway, there would probably
soon be a large development of trade eastwards from



Kengtung and the country beyond : for the Shans are en-
dowed with very keen trading instincts. Moreover, it
would bring our military station at Kengtung, now 350
miles distant from the railway line at Thazi, into consider-
ably better touch with its main bases at Mandalay and
Rangoon. The extension of the railway in this direction
would therefore be an important strategic movement in
protecting Burma against any flank movement from
Tonquin or Siam.

But even the Shan States are not everywhere capable
of being opened out to an unlimited extent In Thibaw,
the most important of the Northern Shan States, which is
being traversed from west to east by the railway from
Mandalay to Lashio, irrigation is already extensively
adopted for cultivation. The soil, a clayey loam resulting
from the decomposition of limestone rock, is fertile so
long as it has a sufficient supply of moisture. Already
the original forest covering on the hill sides has in many
places been so much denuded that further extensive
clearings for cultivation may interfere prejudicially with
the water-storage capacity of the soil, and consequently
with its productivity and with the wellbeing of the
cultivators and of their cattle. This is, however, a
danger that will no doubt be guarded against in due
time by those responsible for the administration of the
State. The Forest Department has already been called
upon to give attention to this matter.

Remunerative extensions of the railway will also
ultimately be feasible beyond Mogaung ; for the country
in the north of the Myitkyina district, though poorly
populated and as yet only partially administered, is rich
in future possibilities. The project of linking up the
Burma line with the Assam railway, for which the pre-
liminary surveys were completed in 1896, must again in
due course be brought forward for favourable considera-
tion. In 1892 a reconnaissance was made from Minhla
through the An pass across the Arakan hills to Chitta-
gong, and it was found that an alignment was feasible.
But, as it ascended to 2,800 feet and required a tunnel
3,000 feet long at the top of the pass, the project was not
taken into further consideration.

VOL. II. 33 D


Even under the most favourable circumstances it can-
not now be anticipated that the railway will reach Kunlon
on the Salween for several years. From the Kunlon ferry,
about 1,700 feet above sea level, a line can be formed on
the farther side of the Salween extending north-east up
the Namting valley and across a col about 5,600 feet in
elevation to Yunchow (Yincho),^ and thence northwards
for about twenty-five miles to Shunningfu, both of which
places are about that same elevation. This extension
would be about 160 to 170 miles long, and over thirty
miles of it would have to be of a gradient of one in forty.
But it is only after reaching Yunchow or Shunningfu
that the really great obstruction becomes unavoidable.
The Mekong, flowing from twenty to thirty miles to the
east of these towns, presents a formidable obstacle as a
gorge 2,000 feet deep and between two and three miles
in breadth. Beyond that, the possible route and its
obstacles are as yet mainly conjecture. There is no longer
any talk of its going to Talifu (7,000 feet), the emporium
of northern Yunnan. The reconnaissance made by the
Yunnan Company's surveyors in 1898-99 suggests a
possible alignment via Yunchow, through south-western
Yunnan to Yunnan Sen, and thence by way of Luchow
to Chungking. A survey party was during 1899- 1900
engaged in ascertaining details of this route. But
perhaps sufficient has been said to show that railway
construction into the heart of Yunnan will be abnormally
dear, and that the cost of working over high gradients
will be unusually heavy without natural supplies of good
steam-producing fuel near its eastern end.

If for purely commercial purposes it be desired to
extend the Mandalay- Kunlon line into Yunnan, it should
not in the near future proceed beyond Yunchow or Shun-
ningfu, either of which would serve as an additional

^ Lieut. Roux, of the French navy, who accompanied Prince Henri
d'Orleans {From Tonquin to India, 1898, pp. 372, 373), puts Mein-
ningfu (Namting drainage) at 5,207 feet, the pass between the Salween
and the Mekong at 7,776 feet, Yunchow at 7,531 feet, Shunningfu at
5,584 feet, and the Mekong river at 3,604 feet. Unless it can be
proved that these observations are vastly overestimated, then the con-
struction of a line will require to overcome natural obstacles of unusual



focus and distributing centre for any commerce capable
of development. Later on, further knowledge would be
acquired which should make additional extensions,
amounting to vast investments, less of a leap in the
dark than must be the case if large works are hurried
on prematurely. Political reasons may perhaps, however,
make it desirable to proceed ultimately as far as Yun-
nan Sen, to which a young engineer officer is said to have
found what may prove a practicable route via Yunchow
(Yincho) in 1898-99, with a railway distance of about
350 miles from the Kunlon. It is purely a question of a
British Government guarantee to the extent of about
^90,000 a year on the required capital outlay of prob-
ably over ^3,000,000.

The open railway lines in Burma convey a large and
a steadily increasing traffic. The extension of the main
line to Mogaung and Myitkyina, though not immediately
remunerative, will become so in course of time. Between
these two small towns the railway passes through dense
malarious jungle, which will have to await the arrival of
settlers before the forests can be cleared for permanent
cultivation. The tapping of Yunnan by a railway would
not likely bring down cultivators from there ; while moun-
taineers from lofty regions soon sicken and die on the low,
hot, moist plains. Mogaung receives the produce of
the jade mines at Nanyaseik, above Kamaing, and the
amber coming from Maingkhwan ; while indiarubber
from the wild forest tracts to the north, formerly taken
by boat to Bhamo before it could be sent south, is now
brought to Mogaung and Myitkyina for direct transport
to Rangoon.

Since railway construction was commenced at Myit-
kyina a considerable portion of the Yunnan trade, for-
merly borne on pack mules and bullocks westwards
through Momein to Bhamo, has now been deflected from
the Taiping valley towards Myitkyina. It is quite likely
that this deflection of the petty inland trade may con-
tinue, and that Myitkyina, a brand new town, will, to a
certain extent, grow at the expense of Bhamo. But,
cceteris paribus, the valley route by the Taiping river is
the easier track, and there seems no fear of the trade at



Bhamo becoming extinguished. It is most probable
that trade may increase considerably, both at Myitkyina
and Bhamo, though the limits of its possible expansion
seem somewhat narrow. Bhamo, in addition to trade
vid the Taiping valley, must continue to be the empo-
rium of the Chinese muleteers coming down through
Namkhan, our frontier town on the Shweli river, which
was in 1897 connected with Bhamo by means of a well
cleared track fifty-six miles in length.

Even in ascending and crossing the Shan plateau
considerable difficulties have to be overcome on the
Mandalay-Kunlon line. From Myohaung junction the
ascent of the Shan hills, from a level of about 500 feet
on the plain to 3,000 feet on the edge of the plateau
within a distance of less than ten miles, involves, with
two reversing stations, a gradient of the unusual steep-
ness of one in twenty-five, which may ultimately, for
public safety, have to be reduced at great expense to
one in forty. The alignment follows a zigzag course
across the face of a precipitous hill, rounding sharp
curves, passing under heavy cuttings, and going through
rocky galleries. When once this short section was
opened so that rails could reach the plateau, the laying of
the permanent track followed rapidly up to the Gokteik
gorge, about the eightieth mile. This Gokteik gorge
formed, however, a very formidable natural obstruction
to further progress. A fissure in the hills, incomplete in
one short portion, resembling rather a geological fault,
apparently resulted in once damming up the bed of the
Gokteik stream now lying hundreds of feet below. A
lake must have been formed until in course of time the
waters forced an outlet for themselves, by percolation
and pressure, in the form of a subterraneous passage
extending for about half a mile through the dam of lime-
stone rock. The stream now disappears for this con-
siderable distance into a huge cavern, while the fault
above it forms a Ngok or natural bridge across which
the old trade route from China to Mandalay passes.^

^ When I visited the Gokteik gorge, in May and June, 1898, there
stood on the Ngok, just below where the bridge now crosses, a quaint
little monument about seven or eight feet high. It was Chinese in



This trade route has within comparatively recent times
been completely dominated by the Chinese. That such
has been the case is, apart from direct historical records,
clearly apparent from the entrenchments, the remains of
which are easily traceable at different points along the
route. The road bungalow at S6in (Thein), about half-
way between Thibaw and Lashio, is built within one of
the best preserved of these ; but they are to be found
even so far west as Maymyo, near the western edge of
the Shan plateau and within about forty miles of Amara-
pura and Ava, for five centuries the capitals of the Bur-
mese kingdom.

Natural bridges of this sort are common throughout
the Shan States, where the prevailing rock is limestone.
The Gokteik gorge is crossed by a lofty iron bridge
elevated about 850 feet above the stream and 2,500
feet in length. The contract for this viaduct was given
to an American firm, and the work was completed in
December, 1900. This obstacle being surmounted,
there was nothing of unusual difficulty to hinder the
rails being rapidly laid up to Thibaw, 123 miles, as far
as which the line is now open for traffic.

Owing partly to the difficulties connected with the
descent to the Salween and the far greater difficulties
beyond that, and also partly to the disturbances and
political unrest throughout China, it has been very wisely
decided that Lashio is to form the terminus of this rail-
way for the present.

Many who have had exceptionally good opportunities of
forming a sound judgment on the matter have all along
been strongly of opinion that either Lashio or else one or
other of the small towns of Mong Yaw or Mong Kyek,
respectively about twenty-five and forty miles east of

form and appearance, and bore inscriptions in Chinese and Burmese.
The latter ran as follows : — "On the second day of the waxing moon
of Tabaung, 1233 (i.e. about March, 187 1), during the reign of the
Thibaw Sawbwa, Mahawun-tha-thiha-dama Raja, this Yattaung pass,
which was in bad condition, was repaired by the two Hein (headmen)
of Yattein and Taungdeik, so as to make it passable for men and laden
oxen. Hence they have earned the good wishes of the Nat (guardian
spirits) and of men." It is to be hoped that this quaint record has not
been destroyed by the bridge work.



Lashio — and preferably the former — should definitely
form the terminus of the railway line. Beyond that, the
country descending to the Salween again becomes diffi-
cult, and the expense of construction and working will
be considerable. The extension from Mong Kyek to
the Salween river would be about fifty miles in length
and very costly.

When travelling along the roads leading up from the
plains of Burma into the northern and the southern
Shan States, one continually meets caravans of bullocks
carrying small loads of about a hundredweight per head,
packed in bamboo baskets slung over the withers of
each animal, while the Chinese caravans consist both
of bullocks and of mules carrying loads of 120 lbs. But
it must be recollected that, even with the limited number
of trucks necessitated by the high gradients on parts of
this line, one train could convey about 3,000 bullock
loads ; and when several hundreds of thousands of pos-
sible bullock or mule loads are converted into tons of
traffic, the amount of commerce thereby represented is
comparatively so unimportant that it fails to promise
anything like adequate returns to a high-grade railway
abnormally expensive to construct, to maintain, and to

Long caravan routes can, of course, never compete
successfully with direct transport by river or rail when
once this is provided. Hence, when the railway line is
open to Lashio, this will absorb all the caravan traffic
now proceeding to Mandalay, and caravan trade will be
attracted towards the line both from our own Shan
States and from the territories beyond. The bulk of
whatever trade exists or is capable of development in
the western portion of Yunnan must naturally, following
the lines of least resistance, find its way into the Irra-
waddy valley, either through Sadon to Myitkyina, or
down the Taiping valley (Manwaing) or the Shweli
valley (Namkhan) to Bhamo, or by the Kunlon ferry to
the railway line from Mandalay. The caravan traffic
from the south of that which now crosses the Salween
by the Takaw or other ferries and passes through
Taunggyi, the headquarters of the southern Shan



States, and thence proceeds down a fairly good road
for 1 06 miles to the railway line at Thazi (or to the
Pyawbwe station south of that, which offers better
natural advantages for the cattle), may perhaps not
be affected to any appreciable extent until the proposed
branch line is, in course of time, made from Thibaw
southwards through Kehsi Mansam to Mong Nai (Mone),
the capital of the Shan State bearing the same name.

Inland transfrontier trade with Siam, Karenni, the
Shan States, and Yunnan reached /^ 2, 047, 2, 14- in value
during 1899-1900. Owing to improved communications
and greater safety of the frontier trade routes, and par-
ticularly of those leading into Yunnan, this class of trade
is increasing rapidly, and is distributing itself over a
large number of products.

The main imports from Yunnan are now gold leaf —
largely used for the decoration of pagodas and religious
shrines, — horns, orpiment, and raw silk ; while the chief
exports to it are raw cotton, silk and woollen goods,
twist, yarn, and cotton piece goods. At present the total
trade amounts to about ;!^2 50,000 a year.

The trade with the Shan States is more important.
With the southern Shan States alone it amounted to
;^575,556ini899-i900 — which, however, includes exports
of teak timber by river — and it aggregated ^616,667 for
the northern Shan States. To the Shan States the
chief exports are cotton, piece goods, silk and woollen
goods, salt, and salted fish ; while dry and pickled tea,
timber, ginger, chillies, onions, and hides form the chief
imports therefrom.

With Siam trade amounted altogether to over ^355,000
in 1899, but this includes teak timber imported by the
Salween. As the teak timber imports from Siam, Karenni
and the Shan States range in value from ^250,000 to
;^300,ooo a year, however, these data yield a fair basis
for contrasting the relative merits of Yunnan with those
of the southern Shan States and western Siam as a field
for railway extension in the immediate future.

Much can, of course, be done to facilitate the attraction
of trade to the existing railway and steamer lines. It
would be of enormous advantage if British commercial



syndicates could, in the first instance, in anticipation of
subsequent railway concessions, secure the control and
management of inland trade routes between the Yangtse
and the Irrawaddy and Brahmaputra on guaranteeing to
the Chinese Customs Department a sum in excess of
the provincial exactions made, in contravention of treaty
rights, in the shape of Likin dues annually derived on
the average during the last five years. This ought not
to be impossible : nor should it be impossible to organize
a semi-military transport system along improved trade
routes in the western Chinese provinces marching with
our Indian Empire.

Apart from purely political and strategical considera-
tions, the improvement of existing communications con-
verging on important points on river or railway and the
formation of branch lines of railway within Burma seem
to afford much more promising commercial opportunities
than the early construction of a costly railway into and
across Yunnan. The Government of Burma is certain
to do its duty in this respect, so far as lies within its
power ; but it has for many years been the main griev-
ance of this rich province that an undue share of its
surplus revenue is usurped by the Government of India
for Imperial purposes instead of being more liberally
allotted for the improvement of communications in
Burma. In 1897 a road was made from Bhamo to
Namkhan (fifty-six miles), and another leading east to
Sinlumgaba (thirty miles), while in 1898 one was con-
structed from Myitkyina to the frontier on the route to
Momein. A good mule track has been opened from
Momeik, on the Shweli river, through Mogok, the head-
quarters of the Ruby Mines district, to Mainglon in the
Thibaw State, whence it can easily be extended south-
west and south-east to meet the new railway line at
Thongze and at Pyaunggaung.

As to new railways, Moulmein is soon likely to be con-
nected with Pegu on the Rangoon- Mandalay line ; while
the most important of the works actually in hand is the
construction of a line from the seaport of Bassein north-
east to Henzada on the Irrawaddy. This will traverse
rich rice tracts at present lying unserved by any direct



communication with the main river. Again, numerous
small branches could be very profitably thrown out from
the Prome and the Mandalay lines to act as feeders in
facilitating the transport of rice and timber, the two main
staple products of Burma, to Rangoon.

To form a correct idea about it, the question of ex-
tending the Rangoon- Kunlon line into south-western
Yunnan and onwards, so as ultimately to reach some
objective point on the Yangtse river, requires to be
viewed both in its political and its commercial aspects.

The Anglo-Chinese agreement of June, 1897 (Article
XII.) provided for the construction of railways in Yunnan
being considered, in the event of trade conditions justify-
ing this, and for such railways being connected with the
Burmese lines. This concession, coupled with the right
of posting Consuls at Momein and Szumao, had long
been desired by commercial men. Several commercial
syndicates have already taken active steps by sending
out small survey parties to make special investigations
and to collect information of all sorts required before the
Chinese and the British Governments can reasonably be
approached with definite requests for concessions or
guarantees. But it is perhaps to be regretted that these
various syndicates do not co-operate instead of remaining
as separate mercantile interests. Union is strength : and
no nation appreciates the advantages of co-operation more
intelligently than the Chinese, or knows better how to
trifle with divided interests of this sort.

If matters advance beyond these preliminary steps
undertaken by merchant adventurers of the City of Lon-
don, then all further negotiations regarding concessions
and guarantees must in equity be guaranteed by the British
Government ; otherwise, to involve the Government of
India in such a matter will be adding another to the
many financial wrongs already done to India in the name
of Imperial requirements. The Secretary of State may
indeed bring pressure to bear on the Government of
India to have the railway constructed up to the extreme
limits of Burma ; but, beyond that, arrangements for the
extension into Yunnan, if ultimately decided on, must rest
entirely with the British Government on its own financial



responsibility. This is more essentially the case if politi-
cal and strategical reasons with regard to British interests
and influence in China are to be allowed greater weight
than purely commercial interests connected with the trade
of Burma. If imperial political considerations are to rule
the British policy, then no doubt the City of London can
very easily furnish millions of capital for railway con-
struction at the low guarantee, as in the case of the
Burma Railways Company, of two and three-quarters per
cent, with prospect of a share of further surplus earnings
when (or if) realized.^

The commercial prospects of enterprise in Yunnan,
however, unfortunately appear anything but promising.
British Chambers of Commerce told to look upon Yun-
nan as an Eldorado should, to avoid the probability of
disenchantment and disappointment, carefully study the
opinions expressed by the most reliable of the British
Consuls personally acquainted with the country through
which the proposed line of railway would pass. Conse-
quently there are solid reasons for believing that British
commercial interests in the immediate future would be
better served by devoting the money which railway exten-
sion beyond the Salween would cost to linking together
the Burma and Assam railways, to the proposed line
from Burma to Bangkok, the capital of Siam, to the
construction of branch lines as feeders of the existing
trunk lines, and to the formation of short new lines falling
entirely within our own territories. There exist very
favourable openings in Burma for profitable investment
of capital, and it seems much more desirable that money
available in Britain should be well invested in our own
fertile but only partially developed province than that it
should be sunk in as yet questionable enterprises in the
mountainous tracts of Yunnan.

These views on the commercial openings in Burma are
my individual opinions based on a knowledge acquired by
service there extending over nearly a quarter of a century,
on personal acquaintance with almost every district in the
province, and on recent tours made in the northern and
the southern Shan States. But they coincide with the

^ Vide p. 12 for the French guarantee of the Laokai- Yunnan line.



opinions held generally in official and commercial circles,
and with those reflected by the local Press. Any abnor-
mally expensive endeavour to tap the trade of south-
western Yunnan by means of a railway will not be
remunerative for the very simple reason that this lofty
plateau produces nothing in the nature of a trade capable
of great expansion. It is not asserted that it is in any way
impossible, as beyond engineering skill, to construct such
a line to Yunnan and thence to the banks of the Yangtse ;
but it is maintained that it will be enormously expensive
to build and to work, that it will not give adequate returns,
and that in any case extensions and ramifications of the
railway net throughout Burma are preferable so far as
the purely commercial aspect of affairs is concerned. To
be profitable, or even possible, trade must be reciprocal ;
and there seem to be no products in Yunnan which can
be utilized in exchange for goods of British manufacture
to a sufficient extent to make the railway in question

The present population of Yunnan, numbering prob-